Iceland announces plan to kill over 2,000 whales within next five years

Decision to kill whales is ‘morally repugnant’ and ‘economically bankrupt’, say campaigners

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 21 February 2019 17:02 GMT
Illegal Japanese whaling filmed by the Australian Government in Antarctica

Icelandic authorities have announced plans to kill more than 2,000 whales over a five-year period, in a move that has angered environmental groups.

Despite a declining global market for whale meat and falling public support, the government opted to remain in defiance of the international ban on whaling.

Whalers will be authorised to harpoon 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales in Icelandic waters every year until 2023.

The nation’s fisheries minister, Kristjan Thor Juliusson, said these numbers were sustainable and based on the latest scientific research.

Last summer Iceland was at the centre of controversy after reports it had killed two rare blue/fin whale hybrids and at least a dozen pregnant females.

However, hopes that this bad press would bring an end to the practice were dashed with the latest announcement.

“The Icelandic government’s decision to continue to kill whales – amongst the most peaceful and intelligent beings on the planet – is morally repugnant as well as economically bankrupt,” said Vanessa Williams-Grey, a campaigner for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Announcing its new quota, the government cited the economic benefits of whaling, as well as official figures showing populations of the once endangered fin whale were recovering.

“During the most recent count in 2015, their population in the central North Atlantic was estimated at 37,000, or triple the number from 1987,” it said in a statement.

This was supported by the recent conclusion by the International Union for Conservation of Nature that fin whale numbers were on the rise.

But given the uncertainty about global whale numbers and multiple threats facing these marine mammals, campaigners said this should not be taken as a green light for more hunting.

Authorities also pointed to recent reports, including one by an economist linked to the pro-whaling Independence Party, which found that whaling brought sizeable benefits to the Icelandic economy.

However, many in the country – including those involved in the whale tourism industry – have hit back at these claims and argued that whales are worth more alive than they are dead.

Whale watching revenue was 3.2 billion krona (£20m) in 2017, while whaling only brought in 1.7 billion krona, according to a University of Iceland report.

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Along with Norway, Iceland has continued to challenge the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) ban on commercial whale hunting, which has been in place since 1987.

Japan has also defied these rules, although it has used a loophole that allows some whaling for scientific purposes, and at the end of 2018 the nation announced it would leave the IWC altogether.

The Independent has contacted the Icelandic government for comment.

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